Life Beyond Therapy
The best way to break up
Published Thursday, 05-Aug-2010 in issue 1180
Dear Michael:
I recently broke up with my partner of 8 years. I can’t believe I was with him that long, he has been abusive for most of that time. He’s crazy, literally. I think he’s bipolar. He threatens me one day and then begs me to come back the next day. Recently, I saw him at the supermarket and he started yelling at me in front of everyone, making a scene. The problem is that he and I own some properties together and I can’t just cut him and his craziness out of my life. I know he wants to punish me for leaving him, how can I handle this “divorce” without going crazy myself?
Dealing with Mr. Crazy
Dear Dealing:
“Although he went off on you at the supermarket, he may not do so when a table of four other people is only 3 feet away.”
Everyone who breaks up with an ex has to deal with uncomfortable conversations and situations with the former beloved. Even the best breakups have a lot of awkward moments and confusion for both parties. It sounds like your breakup is likely to be nasty and unpredictable. Given this reality, how can you take good care of yourself? How do you maintain a business relationship with someone who makes a scene in a supermarket and may be bipolar (or, at best, is highly unpredictable)?
This is the time to surround yourself with friends, colleagues and family members who love and support you. You may need to lean on them to get through the coming months where you and your ex are forced to communicate to divide up your assets. I also recommend you contact an attorney to help you with this process.
As a psychotherapist, I recommend that clients in situations like yours minimize contact with their ex if he/she exhibits unpredictable or abusive behavior towards you. Some people handle the breakup primarily through their lawyer, letting her/him do most of the unpleasant work. Other people minimize any personal contact with their ex, limiting all contact to telephone calls or to emails. If you want a record of your conversations for court or other purposes, email may be the best mode of contact.
It’s unlikely though, that you will be able to handle everything by email. You’re probably going to have to talk with him in person and on the telephone over the coming weeks. Here’s some advice for taking care of yourself in these difficult situations:
If you have to talk with him in person, meet in a public place where he is less likely to be out of control. Pick a table in a restaurant close to other people. Although he went off on you at the supermarket, he may not do so when a table of four other people is only 3 feet away. If you are really intimidated by him, consider going to meet him with a friend for moral (and physical) support. This is particularly important if you feel he could lose physical control. You want to minimize potential emotional and physical danger to you any time you meet with him. If he threatens or intimidates you in any way, consider a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against him. A lawyer can advise you on that.
I strongly recommend establishing intentions to be “neutral” anytime you need to communicate with your ex. Neutrality is a gentle assertiveness; it’s neither passive nor aggressive. For example, if he says something like “You’ve never really loved me, have you?”, you can respond with neutrality: “Let’s stay focused on talking about the property, okay?” and move on.
At some future time, I suggest you take a look at why you stayed with this guy for so long. Is this what you felt you deserved? Did the relationship resemble previous relationships, like your parents? Learn from this relationship so that you don’t repeat it again. A good therapist or counselor can help you get to the bottom of that stuff. Get some help and break the pattern.

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